And another one bites the dust.
But Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar did not go quietly. After last week’s defeat in the GOP primary, the veteran legislator issued a remarkable statement warning of the dangers of continued partisanship. Lugar, a conservative who embraces “the Republican principles of small government, low taxes, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and trade expansion,” was nevertheless targeted for defeat by conservatives who felt he had strayed from ideological orthodoxy. This, because he compromised with the other party on a few matters — the auto industry bailout, TARP, the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices — that were, he thought, “the right votes for the country.”
“Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum,” said Lugar, “are dominating the political debate in our country. … They have worked to make it as difficult as possible for a legislator of either party to hold independent views or engage in constructive compromise. If that attitude prevails in American politics, our government will remain mired in the dysfunction we have witnessed during the last several years.”
The senator is in the ballpark. But he misstates the problem in two ways.
In the first place, the issue is not partisanship, but hyper-partisanship, a mindset that prioritizes party above country. In the second place, Lugar’s sop to moral equivalence notwithstanding, this is not a problem caused by partisans “at both ends of the political spectrum.”
It was not Democrats who held the economy hostage in a manufactured debt ceiling crisis that caused the nation’s credit rating to be lowered for the first time in history. It was not Democrats who voted down their own deficit reduction resolution, apparently because they didn’t want the president to share credit. It was not a Democratic leader who declared defeating the president his top legislative priority.
No, it was Republicans who did all that. And it is not Democrats who have seen a steady trickle of condemnation and defection by their own appalled members.
That trickle includes Nathan Fletcher, a San Diego mayoral candidate who left the GOP because, “I don’t believe we have to treat people we disagree with as an enemy.”
And former Sen. Chuck Hagel, who said he was “disgusted” by the “irresponsible actions” of the GOP during the debt ceiling crisis.
And congressional staffer Mike Lofgren, who likened his party to an “apocalyptic cult.”
And former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said too many in the GOP regard it as “an exclusive club where your ideological card is checked at the door.”
In their new book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein argue that the GOP has “become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” It is, they note, awkward for mainstream news media to report this because it might be seen as violating their ethos of non-bias or interpreted as blindness to the sins of Democrats.
But it needs reporting, regardless. One cannot fix a problem one will not face. And the new cultishness of the Republican Party is certainly a problem. It should concern anyone who thinks democracy is best served when political parties offer coherent alternatives and hash them out in the marketplace of ideas — something the GOP no longer does.
Or, as Lugar’s opponent, Richard Mourdock, said in response to Lugar’s statement: “I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c) 2012 The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.